If you like the idea of a fast version of MINI's Paceman coupe, then the Cooper S variant is the one to choose, thinks Jonathan Crouch
Ten Second Review
The MINI Paceman is, in effect, a Countryman coupe. And that might well be the oddest of the MINI body styles to date. As with some of the others, you may be left scratching your head. Is this the time that MINI confounds us yet again or will the wheels come off with a model too far? Let's find out at the wheel of the quick Cooper S variant.
Old-school MINI fans have never really got to grips with the Countryman model. Introduced in 2010, here was a MINI that wasn't at all mini. Nevertheless, sales have demonstrated that there was a whole swathe of buyers who would have liked a MINI if it wasn't quite so small. In the shape of the Paceman, the story takes an even stranger twist. MINI is now looking for a group of buyers for whom the original car was too small, but who now need a bigger model, albeit one whose practicality benefits have been compromised by a coupe body. Confused? Join the club.
So the Paceman may have its work cut out in confusing a sceptical market - but then so did MINI's Clubman estate (with its odd door layout) and the Roadster drop-top (produced when MINI already had a convertible in its range). Both won buyers round and this car, unveiled at the 2011 Detroit Show as the premium small car segment's first 'Sports Activity Coupe', may well do the same. In choosing a variant with speed to match its name, you might well end up in the model we tried, the petrol Cooper S. It doesn't have the ridiculous price tag of the top JCW variant, but its 184bhp 1.6-litre turbo engine gives you nearly the same performance.
Being based on the Countryman chassis, the Paceman drives reasonably well for a car of its size and weight. It's quite quick in 184bhp petrol Cooper S form too, the 2WD version managing 0-62mph in 7.5s on the way to 135mph. Performance that isn't much affected if you go for the ALL4 4WD system.
On the move, there's more body roll than MINI regulars will be used to and the car is less ready to change direction at your slightest whim even if you're at the wheel of a model like the Cooper S equipped with a DTC traction control and an EDLC Electronic Differential Lock Control package supposed to help you do exactly that.
Well aware of all this, the development engineers have tried to improve things and return something of the brand's trademark gokart-style responses by giving the electric power steering a direct, hyperactive feel and by specifying firm Sports suspension as a standard fitment across the range. I can see a lot of potential owners wishing they hadn't bothered. Those rock hard springs leave the damping on the firm side of firm and as for the steering, well, the car darts left and right with the smallest movement of the wheel, which takes a bit of getting used to if you're new to the whole MINI experience.
Both issues are correctable though. You can specify a standard and much more comfortable suspension set-up as a no-cost option. And the steering, I found, improved noticeably when you weight it up by pressing the Sport button, an action which also sharpens the throttle response.
Design and Build
Styled as a coupe take on the Countryman, the Paceman is the seventh car spin-off of the MINI theme, and sells alongside the Hatch, Clubman, Convertible, Countryman, Coupe and Roadster. Built on the Countryman platform, bumper to bumper the car is 4,109mm (4,115mm for MINI Cooper S Paceman and Cooper SD Paceman), which makes it almost identical in size to its big-boned sibling.
The shape is a little ungainly at first but your eye soon gets used to it and it looks less wilfully odd than the smaller MINI Coupe. It's inside where things get a little more interesting. The highlight is the unusual rear seat, which has been styled around a 'lounge concept'. That might be over-egging it a bit but you do get two individual chairs with armrests integrated into the rear trim. A two-section version of the MINI Centre Rail storage and attachment system - first seen in the Countryman - comes as standard. Buttons for the windows, which have been toggle switches below the speedometer on every MINI to date, have moved to the door trim panel.
A strict four-seater, the Paceman nevertheless has a practical element. Folding down the rear seats expands the rear load-carrying capacity from 330-litres to a maximum of 1,080-litres. Access is via a large and high-opening tailgate, offering welcome utility for owners who have already deliberately chosen the less practical option open to them.
Market and Model
Expect to pay in the £22,500 to £25,000 bracket for your Paceman Cooper S, depending on whether you want the 6-speed Steptronic auto gearbox and/or the ALL4 4WD system fitted. Essentially, you're talking of a premium of around £1,000 over an equivalent five-door MINI Countryman, so in time-honoured coupe tradition, you pay more but get less of most things. If you must have a fast version of this car, then the Cooper S is the variant to choose. To go further into the top 218bhp JCW 4WD variant requires a £5,000 premium - and you don't end up going very much faster.
Laudably, MINI doesn't skimp on safety kit and every Paceman gets twin front, side and full length curtain airbags. ISOFIX child seat attachments in the rear and a tyre pressure warning light are on every model.
Other standard equipment? Try air conditioning, powered door mirrors and front sports seats. Options include Xenon Adaptive Headlights, Park Distance Control, an electrically operated glass roof, plus the MINI navigation system. Advanced infotainment functions are available via MINI Connected. A range of optional equipment packages are also available. Eight exterior paint shades are on offer, including Brilliant Copper and Blazing Red. Starlight Blue is another shade you might like, also previously unseen and unique to the Paceman. As always with MINI, personalisation is sure to be very popular and there is an extensive choice of bonnet stripes, upholstery variants, interior surfaces and Colour Lines. Get a bit creative.
Cost of Ownership
Cost of ownership is a mixed proposition. The impressive residual figures should be taken with a dose of salt as they rarely factor in the option packs that most buyers choose. On any vehicle of this price, depreciation is always the big ticket item and the Paceman is no exception, but it should fare better than the class norm.
MINI has worked at improving the car's efficiency with a comprehensive raft of measures dubbed MINIMALISM and which include Brake Energy Generation, Auto Start/Stop, Shift Point Display, Electric Power Steering and demand-based ancillaries such as the alternator.
The result is some very good fuel economy and emissions figures. The Cooper S Paceman manages 46.3mpg and 143g/km.
Most cars are easy to assess. The very concept of the MINI Paceman makes it less so. In fact, in some ways, it's a car that makes very little sense at all - which is probably exactly why many potential buyers will like it, especially in pokey Cooper S guise. In any case, MINI is used to carping critics. The brand, after all, took a lot of flak in offering the bigger Countryman model on which this car is based. Traditionalists moaned that it went against the whole philosophy of what MINI should be about but the sales figures have been very respectable indeed.
Will that be the case again with this Paceman? Well, it's much more of a niche proposition. Then there's the interesting marketing issue for MINI of explaining to buyers just why, in the Countryman, it has built a bigger car, then, in this Paceman, negated many of that design's practicality benefits by chopping it into a coupe.
But if any brand can do that, it's MINI. At least this car's different. And that's always a welcome thing.